Sean was just under five feet tall in a room where every other freshman in his high school class towered over him. In junior high school, just after everyone else’s growth spurt, Sean carved out his spot as the class clown. He figured out that it was much easier to make people laugh than to be the target of jokes about his height.
I met Sean when I was called in to facilitate a retreat for his school. From the second I met him, he made me laugh. When Sean opened his mouth, a joke was right there on the tip of his tongue. He had an incredible smile that spread clear across his face and his laugh was just as infectious as his spirit. If he suddenly became serious, it was always a set up for another joke.
After an evening of games and activities, the tone of the group took a much more serious turn when we began to talk about fathers. Some of the students spoke about being raised by a single mother. Others, had stories about not even knowing his name. After a few people shared, Sean quietly raised his hand. When I called on him, his smile was gone. He looked much more solemn and anxious, as if the thoughts colliding in his brain had finally caught up with him.
Sean looked down. As he started to speak, his eyes shifted from the floor to his classmates. “My mother always talks about my father and I hate it. Because I’m just like my father. I look like him, I have mannerisms just like him, I even laugh like him. So when she bad mouths him, I feel like she is saying that I am not good enough. It makes me angry because I am a part of him, just like I am a part of her.”
Sean’s classmates caught a glimpse of the types of issues he hid with laughter. And he didn’t stop there. He spoke for another three or four minutes with raw honesty and pain that at times made his voice crack.
Sean’s experience is what I remember when I work with teenagers, adults, and parents. I remember the emotion in his eyes when he recounted his mother’s insults toward his father. I remember the resentment in his inflection from the years of built up anger.
Hearing someone speak badly about a person you love, hits you at the pit of your stomach. It is conflicting, unbearable, and hurtful, no matter how true it may be. Whether you are dating a person with kids, have children of your own, or are simply around friends or family with kids, it is imperative to understand that when you speak ill of their parents, you speak ill of them.
Regardless of how much child support they paid or didn't pay, whether they were in the delivery room, or any other thing that you hold against them, children shouldn't be privy to your personal feelings against their mother or father. At the end of the day, they simply don't have the capacity to understand how you can love chocolate chip cookies and hate chocolate chips. They didn't get to choose their parents but you can choose what you say and what you don't say about the people who are responsible for their existence.